New Latin motto for Vermont?

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Res Publica Vermontensium

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Stella Quarta Decima

In June 1785, the House of Representatives of the Freemen of Vermont appointed a three-member committee to review the petition of one Reuben Harmon Jr. that he be permitted to set up a mint to produce coins. After studying the matter for five days, the committee presented an act to the legislature, granting Harmon an exclusive two-year right to mint coppers within the Republic of Vermont, setting the weight at 1 troy ounce and containing designs and mottos approved by the committee.

With the posting of a £5000 bond, Harmon was in business, and Vermont had the first mint in the United States. Even if we weren’t, yet, part of the United States.

The first coins had a sun rising over the green mountains, with a plow in the foreground, and one of three variations of the motto Res Publica Vermontensium (The Republic of Vermont). The reverse displayed the Eye of Providence, a popular motif, with emanating rays surrounded by 13 stars and the motto Stella Quarta Decima (the Fourteenth Star). Which, yes, was a reference to the Republic’s hope it would soon be admitted to the club.

For more information: http://www.coins.nd.edu/ColCoin/ColCoinIntros/VT-Copper.intro.html

Est optimum ad loquetur et plane*

* It is best to speak clearly.

Tamara Burke

Stowe Today: January 22, 2015

Assiduus usus uni rei deditus et ingenium et artem saepe vincit. (Cicero)

I dearly love our state motto, Freedom and Unity. What other state acknowledges the eccentric’s right to self-expression, while addressing the need to respect the sensibilities of the community?

Thus I’d argue Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, is well within our tradition of celebrated eccentricity with his decision to act on the suggestion of a middle school student, sponsoring a bill to establish a new state motto commemorating the Latin language tradition of the founding fathers, and Vermont’s status as the 14th state to join the United States … eluceat omnibus lux!

De omnibus dubitandum. (Descartes)

Unfortunately, nobody, including Benning, has quite had the nerve to attempt vocalizing this proposed motto, “Stella quarta decima fulgeat,” in public. Worse, while “stella quarta decima” translates readily enough into “star fourteenth,” “fulgeat” is the third-person singular present active subjunctive (got that?) of fulgeō, likely used here figuratively to mean “I should be conspicuous or illustrious” or “I should shine or glitter.”

Or rather, in its third person singular present active subjunctive form: “It should shine,” or “It should be conspicuous.”

In short, the motto is literally “Star Fourteenth Should Shine.” Likely conspicuously.

I believe the motto we have here might loosely be interpreted by those of low humor to be “Vermont … the wannabe bling-bling state.”

Which is a rather poor motto for a state that prides itself on its complete lack of sartorial splendor.

People believe what they wish to (fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt); even a questionable translation, which rather misses the whole point of studying Latin. We study Latin because it encourages precision in the use and interpretation of language. It is this precise use of grammar and specific vocabulary that has kept Latin alive as the language of medicine and law.

I’d like to think we study history in an effort to better understand ourselves, felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas (Virgil); but often it is little more than a story we tell to support what we wish to believe, an illusion of the past created to support a present delusion.

For example, the delusion of a classically educated modern electorate in the best of 18th-century traditions, ignoring the awkward fact that even the classically trained patriots of the 18th century did not write their immortal words in Latin; they wrote them in English.

Who wrote in Latin in the 18th century? Jesuits and physicians, not politicians. Latin was then, and is now, the lofty language of professional exclusion, available only to those educated in its mysteries. Quidquid Latine dictum sit altum videtur.

What’s been lost in this babble? Our history. The story of one wee penny, of which we might justifiably be proud.

Vermont’s checkered and distinguished past includes a number of “firsts.” For example, in 1846 we issued the first postage stamp. But 60 years earlier, we made our mark with a stamp of a different kind: a metal die.

In June 1785, the House of Representatives of the Freemen of Vermont appointed a three-member committee to review the petition of one Reuben Harmon Jr. that he be permitted to set up a mint to produce coins. After studying the matter for five days, the committee presented an act to the legislature, granting Harmon an exclusive two-year right to mint coppers within the Republic of Vermont, setting the weight at 1 troy ounce and containing designs and mottos approved by the committee.

With the posting of a £5000 bond, Harmon was in business, and Vermont had the first mint in the United States. Even if we weren’t, yet, part of the United States.

The first coins had a sun rising over the green mountains, with a plow in the foreground, and one of three variations of the motto Res Publica Vermontensium (The Republic of Vermont). The reverse displayed the Eye of Providence, a popular motif, with emanating rays surrounded by 13 stars and the motto Stella Quarta Decima (the Fourteenth Star). Which, yes, was a reference to the Republic’s hope it would soon be admitted to the club.

The first issue of the “plough money” was well received. The Vermont coins were heavier than British copper pieces, and struck with the care of a medal, with each side aligned vertically. The April 14, 1787, issue of a Boston paper concludes “the coinage is well executed; and the Device is sentimental, ingenious, and beautiful.”

While production of Vermont coppers was always low, and the copper of later ones poor quality (and of a different design), the coins were heavily circulated, little round ambassadors of audacity from the tiny upstart Republic to the north, sporting the hopeful motto Stella Quarta Decima.

Those coins went into the pockets and purses of a new nation carrying the hope that from many there would be one, a united nation. Our little coppers traveled in purses and pockets, passed from hand to hand, from tavern table to merchant till. They didn’t shine brightly — they were, in fact, rather dull — but they were small statements of Vermont’s longing to belong to the bright and shining thing which was this new country.

I understand the senator put forth this legislation with the best of intention, but does it serve the people of Vermont to burden them with an unpronounceable motto, written in an exclusionary language, based on a dubious interpretation of the historic record?

Salus populi suprema lex esto. In plain English: it does not.

Tamara Burke lives in Stowe.

Playing fast, loose with Latin lingo

  • February 12, 2015

To the Editor:

Perhaps as a resident of Texas and not of Vermont, I don’t have a legitimate voice in the decision of whether or not to adopt a Latin motto for Vermont. However, as a Latin teacher and lover of the language, I do have a legitimate voice in saying that it is clear from her article (Est optimum ad loquetur et plane, Jan. 22) that Ms. Burke clearly does not know Latin as well as she purports, and her objections belie that lack of knowledge.

The first problem I find with her article is the title. “Est optimum ad loquetur et plane” is a horrendous train-wreck of nonsensical Latin grammar. However, it looks suspiciously like the Google Translate results for “It is best to speak clearly,” but as any student of any foreign language can tell you, Google Translate gets a lot of things wrong. The actual Latin for “It is best to speak clearly” would be “optimum est loqui clare.”

The second contention I wish to raise regards Ms. Burke’s attempt to dive into the technicalities of syntax and grammar. She is correct in pointing out that “fulgeat” is a third person present active subjunctive verb, but she apparently does not know that it is a perfectly legitimate translation to render it “let it shine” — in the hortatory subjunctive, in case she is interested in learning more. Furthermore, Latin word order rarely ever matches English word order, and it is ludicrous to say that the actual accurate translation would be “Star Fourteenth Should Shine” – even a first-year Latin student could tell you that. (Again, “Star Fourteenth Should Shine” looks like a Google Translate copy-paste.) Now, the average non-Latin-learner would (of course) easily be forgiven for not knowing these things, but if Ms. Burke is willing to try and play the “grammar stickler” game, she should at least not be wrong about it. The grammar of the proposed motto is correct. It is not “questionable.” The only irregularity about it is that it is not common form to say “quarta decima” — a more common and smoother use of the Latin would be “quartusdecima” or “quartadecima,” with no space in between.

A third issue here is that Ms. Burke’s use of the parenthetical “got that?” seems to indicate that she’s saying the very idea of a third person present active subjunctive makes Latin just too complicated for viable use. This is a foolish objection to make, since the third person present active subjunctive exists in English, and in fact she uses it in her article: “that he be permitted to set up a mint to produce coins.” The fact that something has a complicated technical term to describe it does not make the thing itself impossible to understand — dihydrogen monoxide, after all, is just water.

The history of Vermont and its coin pressing is not something of which I have any knowledge, and Ms. Burke’s facts and objections in that regard may very well be true and valid, respectively. I simply wish to make it clear that Ms. Burke is not enough of an authority on Latin to have that portion of her article carry any weight. I hope that, in the future, she will choose to check her facts more carefully and consult an expert in the relevant field before writing her articles.

Thank you for your time.

David Casper

College Station, Texas

Latin motto is gaining traction

Amy Ash Nixon

Stowe Today: March 26, 2015

http://www.stowetoday.com/stowe_reporter/news/state_news/latin-motto-is-gaining-traction/article_80333092-d3c5-11e4-93f5-fb6d823ca651.html

“Stella quarta decima fulgeat.” Translation: “May the 14th star shine bright.”

Keep it in mind. The maxim may be on its way to becoming the Vermont state Latin motto.

The House Committee on Government Operations has unanimously approved a Senate bill that would enshrine the Latin motto in statute. Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, sponsored the bill, and Angela Kubicke, a St. Johnsbury Academy ninth-grader, proposed the motto.

The phrase would not replace “Freedom and Unity,” the state’s motto, and would not go on the seal or the flag. Benning likened it to the state having the sugar maple as the state tree, or the Morgan as the state horse.

“It would give a young person from Vermont the ability to, many years from now, be able to look back and say, ‘I had an impact,’” Benning testified. “I am bound and determined to make this happen, come hell or high water, and anything else that gets done in this building this year.”

The House Government Operations Committee’s unanimous vote was a rebuke to Vermonters who reacted to news of the bill’s introduction in January with a spurt of anti-Hispanic online commentary.

Apparently confusing “Latin” with “Latin-American,” some of the comments accused Benning of supporting illegal immigration. One said, “Throw Benning and Obama back to Mexico.”

The “ill-informed, negative response” to the Latin motto has gone viral around the world, according to Roy Starling, one of Kubicke’s former teachers at Riverside School, told the House Committee.

“I think that a ‘yes’ vote on this would make a strong statement about who we are and that we really do honor our connection with our founders and the classics,” Starling said.

The motto is borrowed from a coin known as the Harmon cent, which was minted in the town of Rupert, Kubicke said.

Kubicke said she came up with the motto when she participated in the national Junior Classical League. The group formed a Latin club version of “Jeopardy,” the TV quiz game.

“It’s almost like a puzzle that you get to put together, except with language,” Kubicke said.

That’s when she began learning about Latin mottos — and the fact that Vermont didn’t have one.

The subsequent international brouhaha inspired a letter to Angela from Reginald Foster, who formerly worked in the “Latin Letters” section of the Secretariat of State in the Vatican.

Benning said when he received a copy of Angela’s letter last year, he thought of Rep. Graham Newell, who was a professor at Lyndon State College and a longtime Latin teacher at St. Johnsbury Academy. “Up until the day he died,” Benning said.

“So when I received Angela’s letter, it suddenly caused a connection for me,” Benning said.

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